By Ranger Steve Mueller
A Ruby-throated Hummingbird claimed the backyard, sugar water feeder, garden, and surrounding woodland for the summer. It is a joy to sit on the back porch and watch it hover at the feeder and to sometimes see it perch for a drink. Soon it will head south for wintering grounds in Central America. They return to breeding grounds starting in April and begin leaving during August. Place feeders out early and keep them filled through September or into October. Migrating hummers may stop for lunch.
Hummingbirds are unable to walk. Their short legs are only good for perching on branches. Other movement is by amazing wing power. It is reported by Michigan Audubon that they beat wings 53 times a second. It is only a blur to my eyes.
In the backyard I planted an ash tree about 30 years ago. It has provided a good perching for many birds. Its open canopy allows filtered light to pass and does not create deep shade. Birds have found it good for gleaning insects from among the foliage. Unfortunately the exotic Emerald Ash Borer beetle grubs are killing it. It is making a valiant effort to stay alive but the canopy is sparse with branches almost bare.
The hummingbird chooses perches high in the tree and darts to the feeder. It flies in an arc when departing for unknown places in the woods. I glance into the tree every time I venture outside and often see the bird. Hummingbirds are not tolerant of others wanting to visit a feeder. Males especially dive toward other hummers that come to drink sugar water.
The male Ruby-throated Hummingbird has what appears to be a black throat until sunlight turns it to glistening ruby. Even its green back shines with brilliance in sunlight. Its tiny body is about the size of the large grasshopper or cicada. The long slightly down curved bill is nearly as long as the body.
One time I was able to watch a mother incubate two tiny miniature jellybean sized eggs. Other times when young were present, the parent feed them frequently. I watched the long thin bill enter the baby mouths and penetrated all the way to the stomach. It seemed as if the mother was going to pierce a hole in her young. She knows how to feed and care for young. My help with care giving is not welcome but I provide healthy habitat where they find wildflowers, sugar water, and have nesting trees. Food, water, shelter, with appropriate living space are my contribution.
The yard is a mix of open sunny areas with wildflowers, shrubland, and mature trees. Somewhere among tree branches, a nest is woven from spider silk, dandelion or thistle down, and lichens that camouflage the nest. The tiny nest is placed on top of an outer branch. Usually the nest is toward the end of the branch and is only as wide as the branch or slightly wider. Two eggs are laid in the tiny cup and fill its minute space. Hummingbirds have let me know when I am near a nest. When walking, a mother has come and hovered near me and it alerted me to look about. Their irritation with my presence helped me find and observe nests on several occasions.
No nests have been seen at Ody Brook. I suspect the nests are constructed high in a tree. Hummingbirds have a special nature niche that brings joy to my life.
Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at the firstname.lastname@example.org Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433. 616-696-1753.